International approaches to interdisciplinarity

David Soskice

David Soskice FBA is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Government at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and was School Professor of Political Science and Economics from 2012-2022. He taught macroeconomics at Oxford (Mynors Fellow Emeritus, University College) from 1967 to 1990, was then research director/professor at the Wissenschaftzentrum Berlin (1990-2005), and subsequently Research Professor of Comparative Political Economy at Oxford and senior research fellow at Nuffield College, and Research Professor of Political Science at Duke.


  • There are a number of key skillsets that foster innovation
  • Management skills are increasingly important for success
  • Software engineering is a necessity in the service sector
  • Social skills are vital for working across traditional boundaries
  • There is no substitute for creativity and imagination.

Working on service sector innovation in the United States and also in Germany, in Baden-Württemberg, it has been very instructive to see their approaches to fostering productive ways of working. Innovation in these countries is associated with relatively-small graduate workplaces, limited management and relational decision-making.

That then has implications for the skills people need to leave university with. In my view, there are four major skill sets which interact and which foster innovation, the example here being service sector innovation. The first encompasses management skills. British universities do not focus much on these. Yet in American universities, and increasingly in German ones, management is an absolutely key skill. The second set lie in software engineering, which is a given for this sector.

The third set, which are talked about more and more nowadays, are the social, empathetic skills. Today, more than ever, people working on innovative products must have these. Fourth are creativity and imagination. It is interesting that in Germany, these skills are now being delivered by the educational system and above all by the universities. And it is not only the universities but all the research institutes, which are in essence universities of applied science closely related to the needs of the big research companies. They train people, primarily with a focus on IT, software engineering, and management. However, they pay a great deal of attention to the development of social skills through people working together; they then pick out and reward those people who have creativity and imagination.

That approach is even more embedded in the United States. In our work there, we have seen how really good managers work. They pick out, quickly reward and promote people who they can see have creativity and imagination and, critically, who can work together with other people.

To develop a university, like the LSE, so that it can turn out people with these sorts of skills, will require very different ways of thinking. It would be possible to replicate quite a lot of what already takes place in the US and particularly in their professional schools. These are business schools but quite different from business schools here. They typically major on projects where people work together, developing just these sorts of collaborative skills which they will need in their professional careers.

Would it be possible to imagine something like this in the UK? Is it possible to imagine that in a third undergraduate year, one whole semester would consist of people working together as a group on a project which they have to solve? This is actually what Finnish children do, between the ages of six and nine. They are given a project to build a structure, are given some rudimentary instruction and then are left to complete it. This provides an environment for them to learn how to work together, to think, to choose leaders and so on.

The idea that you can train people by getting them to work together, then be able to pick out and reward those who develop these skills and, in addition, have creativity and imagination would surely be a productive way forward.